Newton's Method
Created at 2016-07-01T22:08:25.000Z

In a Go language tutorial (, there's one exercise to implement (approximated) square root function. I know this is a classic programming exercise applying Newton's method to calculating square. But sadly, I couldn't remember how this equation came up:

$$ x_{n+1} = x_n - \frac{x_n^2 - a}{2x_n} $$

This post is for jogging my old memory about a bit of theory behind it. I could go deeper about this subject. But for now, I only consider the simple case at least applicable to calculating square root.

Rough Sketch

2016-07-02 16.05.44

The Case of Square Root

I follow notations from above sketch.

Problem is defined as follows:

  • Given $a \le 0$, we want to calculate $r$ s.t. $a = r^2$ and $r >= 0$.

The function $f$ should be defined by $f(x) = x^2 - a$ since

$$ 0 = f(x) \quad \Rightarrow \quad 0 = x^2 - a \quad \Rightarrow \quad a = x^2. $$

We know $f'(x) = 2x$, so it's straightforward that we have this equation:

$$ x_{n+1} = x_n - \frac{x_n^2 - a}{2x_n} $$

For the initial value $x_0$, you can start whatever positive number.